SAFAR 1431 A.H.
(January 31, 2010)
As captured by El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
Aafia Siddiqui – a daughter, a sister, a mother of three, committed Muslim, social scientist, hafiz of Qur’an – needed to be heard. For years she had suffered in virtual silence…aching to be heard, to be understood, to have certain malicious untruths corrected and exposed for the lies they were. That day finally came on Thursday, January 28, 2010!
The high drama of that day’s proceedings revolved around the question of whether or not U.S. District Judge Richard Berman would grant Aafia’s repeated demand to take the stand in her own defense.
Aafia’s lawyers appeared to be animate in their opposition to her taking the stand, while the prosecution appeared (on the surface) to be in favor of Aafia being entitled to her Fifth Amendment right. Her brother (Muhammad) was apprehensive about her taking the stand, leaning more in favor of her following the advice of her lawyers. Even Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani became involved. During a short visit he was allowed with the defendant, he reportedly advised Aafia to follow the advice of her lawyers.
Aafia’s response to this collective concern was that she would make istiqara (a supplication to ALLAH Almighty for guidance on the matter); and in the end Aafia Siddiqui would be heard.
While I understood the reservations of those who were concerned about Aafia taking the stand (given all that she had already been through), I fully supported our sister’s right to be heard, and was guardedly optimistic about the potential outcome. More than anything, however, I knew that Aafia – like two young Muslim men in an Atlanta courtroom, and several young Muslim men in a New Jersey courtroom (who were eager, but manipulated into not taking the stand in their own defense not long ago) – needed to be heard! Aafia needed to have her day in court!
The process began with a preliminary (test) examination, with Aafia taking the witness stand in the absence of the jury – a kind of hearing within a hearing – to see how she would respond to that type of intensive and focused examination. After the judge determined that she was capable enough to enjoy her constitutional “right” to take the stand in her own defense, the jury was brought back into the courtroom, and it was on. (And what truly spectacular courtroom drama it turned out to be!)
The following summary is based on my notes from January 28th
Open court proceedings began late in the morning, due to a number of procedural issues that needed to be addressed behind closed doors. Once proceedings began, it did so with the judge explaining Aafia’s right, and the possible risks, of her taking the stand. There was extensive discussion about the course and extent of cross examination should Aafia decide to testify.
The government’s support of Aafia taking the stand was full of irony, given the fact that the government had repeatedly argued (during pre-trial and trial proceedings) that Aafia should not even be allowed to remain in the courtroom, because of her periodic outbursts and “uncontrollable” nature (in their view).
The First Witness
It was noted by the government that over a 12 day period, while Aafia was at the Craig Field Hospital at Bagram for critical care medical treatment, following her near fatal re-arrest in July 2008, two FBI agents had continuous access to the injured prisoner (a male and female who did not identify themselves to Aafia as FBI personnel).
FBI Special Agent Angela Sercer was the first to testify. She spoke about how she interrogated Aafia on a daily basis for the purpose of gathering “intelligence.” She described how she sat with Aafia for an average of eight hours each day, and of how they discussed the shooting incident and other related matters (discussions she said Aafia would always initiate). Agent Sercer prepared written reports, and disclosed during testimony that Aafia was never Mirandized (i.e. informed of her rights to remain silent and consult with an attorney before questioning), nor did she have access to a Pakistani consular official.
According to Sercer, Aafia mostly enjoyed her discussions with this special agent. Sercer maintained that she treated Aafia with respect and did her best to respond to Aafia’s needs – i.e. when she requested food, water, bathroom access, or when she requested a Qur’an and a scarf, or when she would complain that the “soft restraints” were too tight and needed to be loosened, etc.
Between 7/19/-8/4/08, FBI agents were posted inside and outside Aafia’s room 24 hours a day, ostensibly to insure that Aafia could not escape and to provide security for hospital personnel – despite the “soft restraints” which secured her hands and legs to the bed (in what Aafia later described as very uncomfortable positions) during her stay at this field hospital in Bagram.
The second witness
The second agent to testify was FBI Special Agent Bruce Kamerman, who had reportedly been assigned on 7/21/08. He claimed that Aafia made numerous statements, that she seemed lucid and to not be in much pain. He also insisted that there was never any coercion. He testified that Aafia had no visitors, and that no Afghan staff attended to her. He also claimed that there were occasions when Aafia would declare that her children were dead, and other times when she stated they might be living with her sister.
Following the testimony of the second agent, a hearing within the trial was held so that Aafia could give testimony (in the absence of the jury).
Aafia testified that when she first realized she was in a hospital she had tubes everywhere. She was in a narcotic state resulting from the administration of powerful drugs (one or two she could remember by name, others she couldn’t). She recalled how her hands and feet were secured uncomfortably apart. She said the agents never identified themselves as FBI, except for “Mr. Hurley.”
Aafia accused Agent Bruce Kamerman of subjecting her to “psychological torture.” She accused him of being immodest whenever he was present and medical personnel needed to examine her, and complained of how he would stand right outside the bathroom door whenever she needed to use it. She testified that Kamerman would sometimes come in the middle of the night (when he wasn’t supposed to be there), and encourage the person assigned to take a break. Aafia said she remained in a sleep deprived state as a result of his frequent presence.
During this period she never had any contact with family, nor with any Pakistani authorities. She thought that [FBI Agent] “Angela was just a nice person.”
During the cross examination Aafia spoke about being “tortured in the secret prison,” and of how she kept asking about her children. She insisted that she never opined that they might be with her sister.
(I should note here that Aafia’s testimony was consistent with information contained on an audio CD that we’ve produced on the case. On the CD, former Bagram and Guantanamo prisoner Moazam Beg recounts how the un-identified female prisoner at Bagram, known only as Prisoner 650, was identified as a Pakistani national who appeared to be in her 30s, and as someone who had been torn away from her children and who didn’t know where they were.)
Aafia also testified that she had multiple gunshot wounds; and that in addition to the gunshot wounds she had a debilitating back condition (resulting from being thrown on the floor after she was shot), persistent headaches, and an intubation tube. She also emphasized that she was in and out of consciousness; and, at times, mentally incoherent.
The video testimony of an Afghan security chief (by the name of Qadeer) was received by the court. While I had to briefly leave the court, and missed this testimony, it is my understanding that what Qadeer had to say about events at the Afghan National Police station in Ghazni – leading up to the shooting of Aafia – contradicted the testimony of a number of the government’s main witnesses.
Later in the afternoon, when Aafia testified in front of the jury, the overflow courtroom (where I was seated) was full of observers. The majority appeared to be non-Muslims in professional attire – a probable mix of court and Justice Department personnel (including interns), law students, and a few journalists. I would estimate that roughly a quarter of the observers in this overflow courtroom were made up of solid Aafia supporters – and yet the reaction to the testimony at times was both interesting and edifying.
When I returned to the courtroom (about 10 minutes into Aafia’s testimony), she was describing her academic work leading up to the achievement of her PhD at Brandeis University. She testified that after completing her doctorate studies she taught in a school, and that her interest was in cultivating the capabilities of dyslexic and other special needs children.
During this line of questioning, the monstrous image that the government had carefully crafted (with considerable support from mainstream media) of this petite young woman, had begun to be deconstructed. The real Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – the committed muslimah, the humanity-loving nurturer and educator, the gentle yet resolute mujahid for truth and justice – began to emerge with full force.
Testimony then proceeded to the events of July 17-18, 2008. Aafia testified that she remembered being concerned about the whereabouts of her missing children. She also remembered a press conference in an Afghan compound.
She testified about being tied down to a bed until she vigorously protested, and was later untied and left behind a curtain. She later heard American and Afghan voices on the other side of the curtain, and concluded that they [Americans] wanted to return her to a “secret prison” again. She testified about how she had pleaded with the Afghans not to let the Americans take her away.
She testified about peaking through the curtain into the part of the room where Afghans and Americans were talking, and how when a startled American soldier noticed her, he jumped up and yelled that the prisoner had gotten loose, and shot her in the stomach. She described how she was also shot in the side by a second person. She also described how after falling back onto the bed in the room, she was violently thrown to the floor and lost consciousness.
She testified that she was in and out of consciousness, and vaguely recalled being placed on a stretcher, a helicopter, and receiving a blood transfusion – which she protested, drawing laughter in the courtroom when she recounted how she had “threatened to sue” her medical attendants if they gave her a blood transfusion. During this testimony, Aafia animatedly rejected the allegation that she picked up a [M-4] rifle and fired it (or that she even attempted to do so).
The Cross Examination
This is the time when every eye and every ear was riveted on the proceedings. It was the moment that Aafia’s defense attorneys, her brother, and a host of Muslim and non-Muslim supporters (seated within both courtrooms) dreaded. It was also the point in the proceedings that had the prosecution salivating for what opportunities would come there way – or so they thought!
Cross examination began with Aafia revisiting the degrees that she received at MIT and Brandeis universities. She acknowledged that she took a required course in molecular biology; but emphasized that her work was in cognitive neuroscience. When questioned on whether she had ever done any work with chemicals, her response was, “only when required.”
(This opening line of questioning was significant for its prejudice producing potential in the minds of jurors. While Aafia is not being charged with any terrorism conspiracy counts, the threat of terrorism has been the pink elephant in the room throughout this troubling case!)
The prosecutor attempted to draw a sinister correlation between Aafia and her [then] husband being questioned by the FBI in 2002, and leaving the U.S. a week later. Aafia noted that there wasn’t anything sinister about the timing; they had already planned to make that trip home before the FBI visit. To underscore this point, she noted how she later returned to the U.S. to attempt to find work in her field.
One of the most heart-wrenching moments in the cross-examination was when Aafia described how she was briefly re-united with a young boy in Ghazni (July 2008) who could have been her oldest son. She spoke of how she was mentally in a daze at that time, and had not seen any of her children in five years. As a result she could not definitively (than or now) determine if that was indeed her son, Ahmed.
When asked whether she had incriminating documents in her possession on the day she was arrested, Aafia testified that the bag in her possession on the day that she was re-detained was given to her. She didn’t know what was in the bag, nor could she definitively determine if the handwriting on some of the documents was hers or not. She also mentioned on a number of occasions (to the chagrin of the prosecutor) how she was repeatedly tortured by her captors at Bagram.
She was also questioned on whether she had taken a pistol course at a firing range while a student in Boston. Her initial reaction was that she did not have any recollection of taking such a course, and when pressed further, answered “No.” When the prosecutor continued to press the issue (infusing sinister motivations in the process), Aafia admonished the prosecutor in the strong, clear voice that was heard throughout her testimony: “You can’t build a case on hate; you should build it on fact!”
Aafia testified that all she was thinking about at the time of her re-arrest in Ghazni, was “getting out of that room and not being sent back to the secret prison.” While discussions were going on between the Afghans and Americans, Aafia was searching for a way out. She repeated her assertion that she startled one of the soldiers who hollered, “She’s free! – before shooting her.
Aafia also elicited an approving reaction in the courtroom when she opined, in reaction to the government’s narration of events, she could not believe a soldier would be so irresponsible as to leave his M4 rifle on the floor unsecured.
In response to government questioning she again took the opportunity to strongly rebuke Agent Kamerman, while rejecting most of his testimony revisited by the prosecutor.
Aafia spoke highly of a number of nurses (and a doctor) who took care of her at Bagram. There was one nurse in particular that Aafia promised to mention favorably if she ever wrote a book. She then produced laughter in the courtroom again when she stated, “Since I don’t think I’m going to write a book, I’m mentioning her now.”
One of the most powerful and revealing moments in the testimony was when she spoke about the people who systematically abused her in the “secret prison” – denouncing them as “fake Americans, not real Americans.” (Because of the way their actions both violated and damaged America’s image!)
She spoke again, under cross examination, about the strong pain medication she was on, and some of the effects this medication had on her.
Aafia also mentioned how she was instructed to translate and copy something from a book while she was secretly imprisoned. During the course of this testimony which repeatedly drew the ire of an increasingly frustrated prosecutor, Aafia noted how she can now understand how people can be framed (for crimes they are not guilty of).
At this point in the proceedings, the judge ordered a brief recess. Clearly the government had thought that they would be able to control and manipulate Aafia in manner that would work in their favor; this ended up being a MAJOR MISCALCULATION. The purpose of this break in the proceedings, in my humble opinion, was to allow the prosecutor to regain her composure, and consult with fellow prosecutors for a more effective line of attack.
When testimony resumed, Aafia spoke of how she was often forced-fed information from one group of persons at the secret prison, and then made to regurgitate the same information before a different group of inquisitors. While it was presented to her as a type of “game,” she spoke of how she would be “punished” if she got something wrong.
On defense cross, Aafia was shown pictures and asked to identify herself in them. She reluctantly did so, but with a little levity, citing how unattractive and immodest the photos were.
I could not see the photos from the overflow courtroom where I was sitting, but I assume that these were the photos of an un-covered, emaciated and emotionally disfigured Aafia Siddiqui – after her horrific ordeal at the hands of American terrorists.
A final note: I sincerely believe that Aafia Siddiqui’s time spent on the witness stand on January 28th was a cathartic experience for her – but one that the prosecution, in retrospect, now deeply regrets. For any truly objective and fair-minded person who witnessed that day’s proceedings, the U.S Government’s case against Aafia Siddiqui was exposed for what it always was…a horrific and profoundly tragic miscarriage of justice!
The struggle continues…
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
© copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved
#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives
Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019 at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.
Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.
News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.
Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.
The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.
“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”
MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.
You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar
At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source: DMagazine.com
The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News
“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman
Source: Bend The Arc
“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman
Source: Kera News
Source: The Carter Center
Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred
“My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN
From Sri Lanka – The Niqab Ban and The Politics of Distraction
This article was originally published on Groundviews
As of last Monday, Sri Lanka is taking a seat at the table next to a list of 13 other countries from across the world who have passed legislation banning the niqab or face veil.
Amidst incensed murmurs from certain parliamentarians, and following a discussion with the country’s main Islamic theological body, the All Ceylon Jammiatul Ulema (ACJU), the President’s office has announced that ‘any garment or item which obstructs the identification of a person’s face would be barred.’ Sri Lanka has been under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks which killed over 250 people. The ban will hold until emergency regulations are lifted.
Ever since the identification of the all-male terrorists behind the massacre as members of militant group ISIS, Muslim women -for some inexplicable reason- were to bear the hardest brunt. Instances of headscarved Muslim women being refused entry at various supermarkets and prominent establishments, was followed by the usual scaremongering via alarmist infographics doing the rounds yet again ‘educating’ the public of the differences between the burqa, hijab, and chador.
A victory indeed for both anti-Muslim voices, as well as to many within the Muslim community seeking to audibly amputate themselves from a supposedly dated form of Islam – one that they claim has no bearing to inherent Sri Lankan Muslim identity. A view that discards the notion that any religious or ethnic identity is fluid, in flux, and subject to constant evolution.
The grand slam however is primarily for the current political establishment, members of whom are probably high-fiving each other as a result of this kneejerk symbol-politics manoeuvre on having supposedly successfully placated the public of their fears of homegrown terrorism. A move that bleeds hypocrisy for it comes at the cost of subliminally ‘othering’ an already marginalized segment of a minority community, while at the same time PSA’ing for peace and coexistence in this time of crisis.
What is most insulting to the intelligence of our society however, is that amidst all this brouhaha, only few have questioned the actual relevance of this new ban to the current state of our security affairs.
No eye witness report nor CCTV footage showed that any of the suicide bombers from any of the coordinated attacks across the country were on that day wearing the niqab/burqa/chador at the time of inflicting their terror. The men were in fact dressed in men’s attire, with faces completely exposed. It might serve to add here also that they weren’t dressed in traditional Muslim man garb either.
How then did the face veiling Muslim woman get pushed under the bus as the most identifiable sign of radicalism?
It is obvious that the government was cornered into passing this legislation, as was the ACJU too in having to support this move. While all communities have only their praises to sing for the exceptional work of the security forces in tracking down the attackers within only just hours, the country’s elected leadership was in dire need of respite following what many experts claim was a massive intelligence failure, a blunder involving the wrongful identification of a terror suspect, and incompetence in the handling of events overall. A distraction was desperately required. Something needed to give, and it just so happened that the niqab-donning Muslim woman was the easiest scapegoat.
To an outsider unfamiliar with Muslim religious symbolism, the face-veil can come across as alien, even unnerving. And while our first instinct is to otherize in an attempt to help deal with the discomfort of dealing with any unknown, a woman out in the street in a niqab is -for as long as anyone can remember- most certainly not an oddity that has compelled anyone to stop and recite their final rites.
The misguided belief that the face veil is a marker of extremism isn’t and hasn’t ever been based on any empirical research. If studies were to be carried out, results would show that Muslim women in general -let alone those with a face cover- have a little role to play, if any, for acts of terror committed in all the countries that have banned them.
Contrarily, there is a clear proven relationship between terrorist attacks and increases in recorded Islamophobic incidents against Muslims, with women being disproportionately targeted. One can then dare infer that being visibly Muslim carries a greater risk to oneself, than to the people around them.
The niqab ban has been put in place as a security measure they say – a flexing of muscles towards any semblance of radicalization that will deter any future acts of terror in the country. Naturally, the perpetuating of this ideological hegemony is doing Muslim women no favors. If anything, the ban is a wholly counterproductive one, in that it ostracizes an already marginalized segment of a minority community – a sliver of a percentage out of the 10% that is the country’s Muslim population.
If -as commonly believed- veiled Muslim women are being hopelessly persecuted, the ban will serve only to increasingly confine these women to their homes, under the control of the men accused of governing their lives, and further disconnected from being able to assimilate with society. Even more dangerous, there are studies which prove that having to live in an environment that is aggressively policed on the basis of belief is more likely to harbour radicalization.
Absurdity of the non-connection of the attacks with the niqab ban aside, this in itself should be a war cry for secular feminists advocating for everyone’s basic right to the civil freedoms of a liberal society. Where now are the proponents and ambassadors so wholly soaked in the ‘Muslim woman saviour complex?’ A segment of Muslim women has been forbidden from wearing what they feel best represents their Sri Lankan Muslim identity. They were not consulted before this legislation was passed, nor were they given the chance to show their willingness to cooperate on instances where identification was required.
Ludicrously, discourses surrounding veiled Muslim women are paradoxically lobbed back and forth according to the convenience of the times. In times of world peace, they are oppressed and subservient to patriarchal whims and fancies, while in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack there are hostile and threatening, capable of devising all kinds of evil. They are either victims of violence or the perpetrators of it.
This age-old preoccupation with Muslim women’s attire is in actuality a gross conflation of conservatism with extremism. In claiming that a strip of cloth holds the answer to combatting a severe global threat is trivialising the greater issues at hand. If there was a direct correlation between the attacks and veiled individuals, legislation forbidding the covering of the face in public would be wholly justified. But there is none.
Muslim women shouldn’t be faulted for the cracks in the state’s china. In not being able to answer the hard questions of accountability, lapses in acting on available intelligence, and general good governance, those at the top should leave well alone and consider hiding their faces instead.
Potential Retrial In Sight For Imam Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown)
The struggle and trials of the honorable Imam Jamil Al-Amin
It was the night of March 16th, 2000. That day had been Eid, the holiest day of the year for West End’s Muslim community. Prayers were held by Imam Jamil Al-Amin, the soft-spoken, bookish Imam, who was famously known in the civil rights movement as H. Rap Brown prior to his conversion to Islam. That night, police officers pulled up to the Imam’s convenience store with a warrant for his arrest. The police saw a man and asked him to put his hands up: 5’8”, gray eyes, and 170 pounds, as eyewitnesses would later tell.
Asked to put his hands up, that man would instead pull out a handgun. A shootout between the man and two police officers would ensue. The man would then go to his trunk and pull out a lightweight, semi-automatic carbine Ruger Mini-14 with an extended clip housing 40 .223 caliber rounds of ammunition. Using military grade weapons, this man would murder one police officer and injure another. This man, Otis Jackson, would eventually confess to committing the crime.
Eventually, Imam Jamil Al-Amin would be charged for this crime. Neither Jackson’s confession of the crime nor his matching the description of the shooter would be included in Al-Amin’s trial. For the jury, this evidence was nonexistent.
Eyewitness testimony claims that the man who killed the police officer was not only 5’8” and 170 pounds with gray eyes but also that he suffered gunshot wounds. While Jackson fits this description, Imam Jamil Al-Amin is 6’5”, lanky, has brown eyes, and did not suffer a single wound. A 911 call also claimed that the shooter was bleeding out and walking around West End looking for a ride.
Otis Jackson was on parole at the time of the shooting for a previous crime he had permitted. He told his parole officer he had a shift working at a local diner at the time. When the officers told him to put his hands up, he felt the handgun in his pocket. Violating his parole and possessing an illegal weapon, Jackson knew that he would be sent back to jail. Aware of this, he decided to shoot at the police officers instead of putting his hands up.
That night, Jackson went home and received a call from Sentinel Company, which provided the monitoring for his ankle bracelet. The Sentinel representative asked where Jackson was, to which he replied that he was at work. The representative then told Jackson that this would be marked down as a violation, to which Jackson agreed and quickly ended the conversation.
He then had female friends who were nurses come and treat him for his wounds. He told them that he was robbed. Jackson called a friend named Mustapha Tanner, and ask him to get rid of Jackson’s vast arsenal of weapons: three Ruger Mini‐14 rifles, an M16 assault rifle, a .45 handgun, three 9mm handguns and a couple of shotguns. He also informed his parole officer that he was involved in a “situation” but left out any details. Police later searched Jackson’s house and found rounds of Mini‐14, .223, 9mm, and M16 ammunition. His bloody clothes and boots from the shootout were left untouched in a closet.
His parole was revoked and he was sent to jail in Nevada. There he would confess to the crime and even be visited by an FBI agent by the name of Agent Devon Mahony. Jackson’s confession was documented by Mahoney on June 29th, 2000. But nothing was done after that. Jackson’s confession was also not included in Jamil Al-Amin’s trial in March of 2002. In the midst of government surveillance on civil rights leaders and post 9/11 Islamophobia, Imam Jamil Al-Amin would be sentenced to life without parole for the crime of murdering a police officer.
Al-Amin has an appeal on May 3rd in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that could potentially allow for a retrial. Through this retrial, it is possible that evidence that was previously left out of the court, such as Otis Jackson’s testimony, could allow for Al-Amin to establish his innocence.
Arrest and Trial
Following this shooting, Imam Jamil Al-Amin would be put on the FBI’s most wanted list, and 100 FBI agents would be deployed on a manhunt to find him. Al-Amin would be arrested in White Hall, Alabama four days later. As he was arrested, FBI agent, Ronald Campbell kicked him and spit on him. It is important to note here that Imam Jamil Al-Amin was a 55-year-old religious leader. One would wonder what sort of hatred led an FBI agent to engage in such behavior towards a middle-aged clergyman.
Eventually, an officer would also find guns in the woods adjacent to where Al-Amin was found. Despite decades of FBI surveillance, there was absolutely no evidence linking Al-Amin to the guns. There was not a single fingerprint or Al-Amin’s DNA on the guns or ammunition found. The guns were also not hidden or concealed in any way. So under the state’s argument, Al-Amin meticulously cleared the weapons of his DNA and fingerprints but did not do anything to hide the weapons.
Many have suggested that it was actually Agent Campbell, the FBI agent who physically assaulted and spit on Imam Jamil Al-Amin, who planted the guns. In 1995, Campbell had been accused of shooting Glenn Thomas, an African American man, in the back of the head in Philadelphia. In that case, too, a fingerprint-less gun was found next to the man’s dead body.
In addition, Agent Campbell first claimed that he was with other police officers when he crossed the fence into the woods and found the guns. But he later, in cross-examination, claimed that he was alone. Such contradictory information and the fact that the weapons could never be proved to belong to Al-Amin makes one wonder how this could function as any sort of evidence.
It is also important to note that Al-Amin went to trial in March of 2002, less than six months after 9/11. At a time when hatred against Muslims in the United States was at an all-time high, Al-Amin showed up to court wearing a kufi. He even said to the judge and jury: “I invite you to Islam. Be Muslim and receive two rewards [i.e. That of this life and the next].”
But even in this time when hatred of Muslims was at an all-time high, the idea of this soft-spoken Imam committing a crime was still strange to so many. The New York Times wrote that “Some could not believe that the man who spent the last 25 years as a nonviolent Muslim cleric in the West End of Atlanta would explode in a seemingly unprovoked blaze of violence.”
Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s Muslim faith was also attacked by the prosecution. They told the jury “Don’t stand up for him,” in reference to Al-Amin’s religiously-based decision to not stand for the court, for which the court granted him permission to do.
The court ruled Al-Amin guilty and he was sentenced to life without parole. Following this, the prosecuting attorney for the state said, “After 24 years, we finally got him.” In order to understand the context of this remark, one must understand the Cointelpro program that Al-Amin was targeted by before his conversion to Islam when he was H. Rap Brown.
Rap Brown and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
In his late teens, H. Rap Brown joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committing (SNCC). SNCC (Pronounced “Snick”) used the tactics of nonviolent direct action in order to bring about civil rights for Black Americans. Prominent in the American South, SNCC members studied Gandhian tactics of nonviolence from James Lawson, who was then a graduate student in theology at Vanderbilt University. Future Congressman and then-SNCC Chairman, John Lewis would mentor H. Rap Brown.
In 1965, the young H. Rap Brown rose up in the organization and eventually became chairman of the Nonviolent Action Group, the Washington DC affiliate of SNCC. As head of this organization, Brown entered into an infamous White House meeting with President Lyndon B Johnson. President Johnson told Brown that SNCC’s all-night demonstration had prevented his two daughters from sleeping that night. Brown replied that he was sad for the one night his daughters were disturbed, but that “Black people in the South had been unable to sleep in peace and security for a hundred years.” He asked what the President planned to do about that, and anticipated that this issue was what this meeting was about.
Following John Lewis’ tenure as chair of SNCC, Stokely Carmichael then became chair in 1966. Inspired by the works of Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon, Carmichael understood nonviolence not as a principle, but as a tactic. He introduced the phrase “Black Power’ to the organization, and began to speak out on international issues, introducing SNCC’s opposition to the American war in Vietnam.
FBI Surveillance on H. Rap Brown
In 1967, H. Rap Brown, at the age of 23, was elected Carmichael’s successor as chairman of SNCC. Brown would take the nonviolent out of the name of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, renaming it the Student National Coordinating Committee. He lamented that “Violence is as American as cherry pie…We will use that violence to rid ourselves of oppression, if necessary. We will be free by any means necessary.” It was also under his leadership that SNCC entered into a working alliance with the Black Panther Party, giving Brown the honorary title of Minister of Justice of the Black Panther Party alongside being Chairman of SNCC.
That year, the FBI contacted Brown’s wife, Karima Al-Amin, in an attempt to get her to spy on her husband for the FBI and provide reports on him to them. At this point, SNCC was being targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which aimed at surveilling, discrediting, and disrupting political organizations that fought for the rights of Black Americans. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program called for H. Rap Brown and other prominent black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Stokely Carmichael to be “neutralized.”
It was through this program that J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, discovered that Martin Luther King Jr was having extramarital affairs. Attempting to use the tactic of public humiliation, Hoover wrote a letter to Martin Luther King Jr attempting to coerce him into suicide, lest he wants the world to know of his infidelity.
In December of 1969, two Black Panthers in Chicago fell victim to this neutralization after a 14-man police raiding force collaborated with the FBI. The police murdered 21-year-old, Fred Hampton and 22-year-old, Mark Clark, two members of the Black Panther Party in a pre-dawn raid in their Chicago homes.
In a meeting with President Lyndon B Johnson, FBI Director Hoover said, in reference to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, “We wouldn’t have any problem if we could get those two guys fighting; if we could get them to kill one another off.”
This FBI campaign of neutralization caught up to H. Rap Brown. After giving a speech in Cambridge, Maryland in July of 1970, he was grazed with bullets from police while walking a young woman home. That night, fires occurred in the city. Brown would be accused of arson and inciting riots in the city. Later evidence would show that Brown had no relation to such fires, and they actually came from the inaction of the Cambridge Fire Department, which had a hostile relationship with its Black community. But the head of the Cambridge Police Department pinned the charge on Brown, accusing him of “a well-planned Communist attempt to overthrow the government.”
Congress would then pass the “H. Rap Brown” law in his name that would make it illegal to cross state lines in order to incite a riot. Then Governor of Maryland and soon-to-be Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew stated that “I hope they pick him up soon, put him away, and throw away the key.”
Like many leaders in the movement such as Angela Davis, Brown would be placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and run away from the authorities spending time in Africa, before eventually being brought back to Maryland in 1970 for trial. It was there that he would be sentenced to 5 years at Attica Prison in New York City.
In his time in prison, H. Rap Brown accepted Islam and took the name, “Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.”
Conversion to Islam and Reinvention as Jamil Al-Amin
Following his release from prison in 1976, Al-Amin traveled to India, Pakistan, and West Africa to study Islam. He then embarked travel to Makkah for the Hajj pilgrimage before moving to Atlanta to establish a Muslim community in the impoverished and crime-ridden West End neighborhood.
In West End, the former radical firebrand reemerged as a pious, soft-spoken, and bookish Muslim scholar concerned about the spiritual and social resurrection of the neighborhood. He preached Islam to drug dealers and prostitutes in the neighborhood and sought an intense anti-drug campaign.
In the West End Mosque, they called the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, out loud five times a day, so that the whole neighborhood could hear it. Al-Amin was of the belief that change of society could only come after people had changed themselves through the act of prayer.
Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid, the current Muslim Chaplain at Harvard University who grew up in Imam Jamil’s West End community, mentioned in his Ph.D. dissertation:
“He would retain his devotion to changing the prevailing system and worked to teach his community to cultivate an alternative way of living that is not indicative of token social justice programs. He taught the importance of the five pillars of Islam and revolutionary ‘technologies of the self’ that, when actualized at the communal level, transform the society into a better one. He still remained non-violent but still dedicated himself to teaching social revolution through a revolutionary approach to Islamic practice.
“The mission of a believer in Islam is totally different from coexisting or being a part of the system. The prevailing morals are wrong. Western philosophy…has reduced man to food, clothing, shelter, and the sex drive, which means he doesn’t have a spirit. In Islam, we’re not talking about getting the poor to vote. We’re not talking about empowering poor people with money. We’re talking about overturning that whole thing.”
He preached and wrote about the understanding of the centrality of prayer, charity, diet, pilgrimage, family, and struggle as the core elements of person and by extension social change. His book entitled, Revolution By The Book, published in 1994, is the first American Muslim liberation theology manifesto. Whereas much Christian liberation theology centralizes its attention on social concern for the poor and liberation of the oppressed, Imam Jamil’s Revolution By The Book begins with the individual turning inward to correct decadent ways and through reform of the self, one may then begin to look outward at institutions that are also in need of reform. He explains that,
“When you understand your obligations to God then you can understand your obligations to society. Revolution comes when human beings set out to correct decadent institutions. We must understand how this society has fallen away from righteousness and begin to develop, Islamically, the alternative institutions to those that are in a state of decline around us. But, we must first enjoin right and forbid wrong to ourselves. That is the first step in turning this thing around: turn yourself around!”
Many who had known him pre-conversion to Islam spoke of how much Al Amin had changed from the H. Rap Brown that once was.
A former SNCC colleague, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, commented on Al Amin’s speech at the funeral of former SNCC Chairman, Stokely Carmichael. The talk included numerous other pillars of the civil rights movement such as John Lewis and Diane Nash. Thelwell stated:
The only real departure and my only surprise came when Imam Al-Amin spoke. What he delivered in tribute to his old friend was a thoughtful, Islam-inflected reflection on the nature of oppression and the moral duty, the religious imperative, of the faithful to resist. Liberally adorned with Koranic quotations, it was, as I recall, an erudite, elegantly constructed, finely reasoned explication of the categories and nature of oppression, and the moral dimensions and complexities of struggle as expressed in the prophetic poetry of the Arabian desert some 1,400 years earlier. In any terms–culturally speaking–it was scholarly. I found it startling in a curious way: It did not quite fit either stylistically or culturally with what had gone before, yet was completely appropriate.
As he spoke, I remember thinking: Ah, so this is what a serious Islamic sermon sounds like, huh? Rap really takes this calling seriously. The brother is indeed an Islamic scholar, an imam. (I took in the hang-jawed look of astonishment and dawning professional respect that crossed Minister [Louis] Farrakhan’s face as he listened to be confirmation of my impression..”
In an article titled “Growing Up West End,” Masood Abdul Haqq wrote about being a member of Imam Jamil Al Amin’s West End community.
When my family and I first moved to Atlanta in the fall of 1992, the West End Muslim scene unfolded like some sort of Black Muslim Utopia. A soulful adhan was the soundtrack to Black children of all ages in kufis and khimars playing with each other on either side of the street. The intersecting streets near the masjid gave way to a large covered basketball court, on which the game in progress had come to a halt due to the number of players who chose to answer the melodic call to prayer. Overlooking this scene from the bench in front of his convenience store, like a shepherd admiring his flock, was a denim overall and crocheted kufi-clad Imam Jamil.
Before I heard him utter a single word, it was obvious to me that I was in the presence of a transcendent leader.
The early 1990’s was an exciting time to be in Atlanta. However, one of the unfortunate undercurrents of our booming urban economy was the inevitable rise of the drug trade. Reagan had been out of office for a full term, but his crack epidemic and trickle down economics were still very prevalent in inner city neighborhoods across the country. The West End was no exception. At the intersection of Holderness Street and Lucille Avenue, just 100 yards from my childhood home and four city blocks from the West End Masjid, stood a notorious motorcycle club and corner store. Both businesses were knee deep in the interests of prominent local drug dealers and it wasn’t long before that corner earned the reputation as a “million dollar block.”
One might think living so close to such a dangerous corner would make for a tale of hard knocks, peer pressure, and intimidation. For the Muslim kids, that was the furthest thing from our reality. Instead, we ran around that neighborhood with impunity. When the dope boys saw us coming, they would step out of our way, offer to buy us snacks from the store, or just whisper to each other about us being “Big Slim’s folks.” Sometimes they called him Rap. Or the Imam. The bottom line was, they may have pulled the usual dope boy tricks of recruiting and terrorizing kids within the neighborhood, but us Muslim kids were off limits.
There was an honor associated with being a member of Imam Jamil’s community, a VIP hood pass that made us immune to the usual ills of this sort of environment. This street credibility from outside the Muslim community stemmed from Imam Jamil’s days as H. Rap Brown, a revolutionary fighting for Black rights. It evolved when he demonstrated the ability to bridge gaps between young and old, Muslim and non-Muslim. People respected that his entire life revolved around salat at the Masjid. This made him accessible and dependable. Five times a day, the adhan was called and Imam Jamil would either lead or appoint someone to lead the prayer. Afterwards, no one would leave unless he raised his hand for permission and got the nod from the Imam. After finishing his dhikr and du‘a, the Imam would ask, “Is there anything anyone would like to bring out?” Brothers would bring forth questions, concerns, and news from around the neighborhood, and the Imam would address it or tell the person to meet him after salat. The drug issue was at the forefront. Slowly but surely, prayer by prayer, the million dollar block was abandoned. Miraculously, after efforts to clean up the neighborhood around the million dollar block, now stands the West End Islamic Center, a beacon of hope for sustaining the community.
FBI Perception of Al Amin Post-Conversion to Islam
Despite such transformation of self that led to the transformation of the West End community, Al-Amin still remained the object of government spying that went back to the Cointelpro days. The FBI compiled a 44,000-word file on Al-Amin and his Muslim community, attempting to pin a crime upon him. Because his entire life was dedicated to praying five times a day at the mosque, developing his community, and stopping drugs and crime, the FBI could not find a single crime that Al Amin had committed.
After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Al Amin was interrogated by the FBI as to whether he played a role.
Al Amin’s brother, Ed Brown stated that:
“Y’know…something happens. Say the first attempt to bomb the Trade Center, right? They feed their infallible profile into their computer. Muslim…radical…violent…anti-American, whatever, who knows. Anyway, boom, out spits the names, H. Rap Brown prominent among them. Next thing the Feds come storming into the community and haul Jamil in. This actually happened. Of course, it’s stupid. And every time they have to let him go. But how do you stop it? A goddamn nightmare, they never quit.”
Two years following that, Al-Amin would be arrested by a joint force of the FBI, local police, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives after a 22-year-old, William Miles, was shot in the leg. One must wonder why the FBI was concerned about a non-fatal shooting that hit a young man’s right leg. But even in this case, Imam Jamil Al-Amin was found not guilty and cleared of any wrongdoing.
It was found that between 1992 and 1997, authorities investigated Al-Amin “in connection with everything from domestic terrorism to gunrunning to 14 homicides in Atlanta’s West End.”
While driving in Marietta, Georgia in May of 1999, Al-Amin would be pulled over in his vehicle for driving with a drive-out tag, which allows a vehicle to drive without a license plate for 30 days. Eventually, Al-Amin would be searched, and an honorary police badge, given to him by the mayor of White Hall, Alabama, would be found in his wallet. Al-Amin was charged with impersonating a police officer, driving a stolen car, and driving with expired insurance. In 2002, a Georgia judge would rule that this warrantless search violated Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s fourth amendment rights. The mayor of White Hall also wrote to how he had gifted Al-Amin this badge. Due to a snowstorm, Al-Amin’s court date for this case was canceled— and never rescheduled.
It was this traffic stop that would lead to the arrest warrant. It was from that warrant that police officers would eventually be shot and killed by Otis Jackson, who would confess to the crime and match the description of the shooter. Despite this, it would be Imam Jamil Al-Amin who would go to jail.
Al-Amin’s Time in Prison
In addition to being there for a crime that he claims he did not commit, Al-Amin has faced many violations of his rights in jail. He has been unable to attend Friday prayers and has spent the bulk of his time in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Between June and August of 2003, the federal government was also caught reading his mail, in violation of Al-Amin’s fourth amendment rights.
Despite his solitary confinement, word got around that Imam Jamil was imprisoned. Prisoners in Georgia also asked for Al-Amin to be their unified Imam “because of his credibility as a leader prior to incarceration,” in an act that was not initiated by him. This led to an FBI investigation and report titled “The Attempt to Radicalize the Georgia Department of Corrections’ Inmate Population” which established Al-Amin as the leader of this radical Muslim kingpin operating in prisons. The report failed to link Al-Amin to any extremist Muslim organization and also failed to establish how Al-Amin could lead such an extremist cell while being in solitary confinement.
Without notifying his family or legal counsel, Al-Amin was forcibly transferred by federal authorities in July of 2007. He was chained inside a vehicle for 6 hours in the 92-degree heat, while being deprived of his blood pressure medicine. Because he was unable to stand, Al-Amin was hospitalized for a night, before being transferred to the ADX prison facility in Florence, Colorado. He was then transferred to the United States Penitentiary in Arizona, a high-security federal prison for male inmates. In August of 2007, the Georgia Department of Corrections said Al-Amin was sent to federal prison because “Al-Amin’s high profile presents unique issues beyond the state prison system’s normal inmate.” It was never explained what these “unique issues” are.
Appeal on May 3rd and Potential for Retrial
Allen Garrett is a lawyer who has been working pro-bono on Al-Amin’s case since 2007. He has “discovered retaliatory actions on the part of prison officials against Al-Amin.” Moreover, he has been granted the possibility for an appeal on May 3rd, in which the court will decide whether Al-Amin can be granted a retrial for the crime he was found guilty of in 2002.
With new evidence not included in the trial such as the confession of Otis Jackson, and Agent Campbell’s lying about being alone and previous planting of fingerprint-less guns, Al-Amin has the potential to clear himself of such charges and establish his innocence. America too has changed drastically since Al-Amin was put on trial in 2002. Organizations such as Black Lives Matter have brought to light the injustice of programs such as COINTELPRO which targeted Al-Amin and other civil rights activists. The Trump era has also highlighted the irrationality of the brazen Islamophobia that aided Al-Amin’s guilty verdict.
Al-Amin’s membership in the Black Panther Party was symbolic and resulted as a result of an alliance between the Black Panther Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he was chair of. But despite his limited affiliation, in today’s context, the Black Panthers do not have the same stigma attached to them. The movie, Black Panther, ends in Oakland, California, in an allusion to where the Black Panther Party was founded. Beyonce wore Black Panther outfits at the Super Bowl. And even Democratic Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, hardly a symbol of radicalism or even progressivism, has stated that she was inspired by the values of the party.
I spoke to Kairi Al-Amin, Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s son. He was 14-years-old when his dad was imprisoned. Since then, Kairi, now 31, has become an attorney, with the goal of freeing his dad of this crime that he did not commit. He spoke of the importance that there is in getting public opinion on the side of his father as this appeal approaches. Should the court rule in favor of this appeal, a retrial could allow for evidence previously left out to be introduced. He has created a website called https://whathappened2rap.com/, which has a fact sheet on the trial, with information on how people can be better involved.
With the public watching, it is possible that on May 3rd, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in favor of Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s retrial, and that he can finally be given the opportunity to present the full case and be exonerated of this crime.
What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam
Lesson 11 From Surah Al-Kahf
Heart Soothers: Salim Bahanan
Why I Turned to Tech to Catch Laylatul Qadr
Heart Soothers: Adam Munshi
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development
#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives
How To Build People Up, Not Destroy Them While Teaching Faith
Ben Shapiro Gets Wrecked on the BBC for Racism Against Palestinians and American Jews
#Current Affairs4 weeks ago
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
#Society4 weeks ago
The Rise of the Scholarly Gig Economy and Fall of Community Development
#Current Affairs2 weeks ago
#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives
#Islam4 weeks ago
How To Build People Up, Not Destroy Them While Teaching Faith